If anything distressing happens between you and a colleague at the workplace, we're told, there's one thing you need to do. But going to the human resources department to resolve a conflict or protect yourself may not bring about the results you want. HR is as subject to social biases as any other department, and it's causing trouble for those it's meant to protect.
Psychologists at the University of Washington have just released a disturbing new study about who gets believed when they report instances of sexual harassment. More specifically, the research finds that the more "stereotypically feminine" a victim is, the more likely it is that authorities will believe her account.
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"The consequences of that are very severe for women who fall outside of the narrow representation of who a victim is," said lead author Bryn Bandt-Law. "Nonprototypical women are neglected in ways that could contribute to them having discriminatory treatment under the law; people think they're less credible — and less harmed — when they make a claim, and think their perpetrators deserve less punishment."
Not only that, but reporting authorities also believed that "nonstereotypical women" broke down not just along gender presentation lines, but also along axes of race, ethnicity, disability, age, and sexual orientation. In other words, dismissing these reports reinforced already existing and damaging ideas about women at a number of intersections and identities.
No matter who reports sexual harassment, they deserve the fullest support available. The problem is far larger than any official cases made. It behooves all of us to take equally seriously everyone who comes forward.